Communities of Bristol Bay wait for decision on Pebble Mine permits
December 30th, 2016 | Molly Dischner, The Bristol Bay Times-Dutch Harbor Fisherman
As the end of the year nears, Bristol Bay communities are waiting for a final decision on the Pebble Partnership's request to continue its exploration work near Lake Iliamna.
Earlier this year, the Pebble Limited Partnership applied to the state Department of Natural Resources for the multi-agency hard rock exploration and reclamation permit that would allow it to continue its current "care and maintenance" program at the proposed mine site near Lake Iliamna, where the company is considering a controversial large-scale mining effort.
Now it's up to the DNR's Mining Section to decide whether to allow the exploration program to continue, and a final decision is expected by late December. Once made, it'll be posted online.
The state opened a public comment period in response to the permit application through the month of November, but it was only advisory; there is no state law requiring the state to consider them in the final decision. The public is typically provided notice on such applications, even though it's not required by law.
In an email, DNR spokeswoman Elizabeth Bluemink estimated that the state received more than 1,000 comments on the issue. Some went directly to DNR's mining section, others to the governor's office.
"We worked to make sure that comments delivered to the Governor's Office were shared with the Mining Section so that they could be considered in the regulatory process," Bluemink wrote.
Bluemink said she expects a final decision by the end of the month, but did not have an exact date.
In an email Dec. 20, Heatwole said he didn't want to speculate on the state's forthcoming decision, but that the company would work with the state once a decision was made.
The company's current permit expires at the end of the year, and the company wants a two-year permit to continue what it has been doing: a fairly minimal field program, which is expected to be the status quo for the next couple of years, Pebble spokesman Mike Heatwole said earlier this fall. But others in the region and around the state have said the field program has damaged the area, and have asked the state not to OK another round, or not to do so without more environmental safeguards.
Concerns about the work so far prompted many of the comments, and United Tribes of Bristol Bay released a report this fall, that it had commissioned by an independent agency, that detailed sites it said we not properly cleaned up.
The tribal group helped gather comments from the community and concerned citizens this fall, and now, like others in the region, is just waiting for the governor's decision.
"Governor Walker has expressed, on multiple occasions, his commitment to an Alaskan solution to protecting Bristol Bay by stopping the Pebble project. We are confident he's heard the concerns of Bristol Bay's people and is going to hold Pebble accountable for the mess they've left in Bristol Bay," said UTBB Executive Director Alannah Hurley.
After the report's release, the regional tribal organization called for a better reclamation program and improved monitoring by DNR.
Pebble has said that it believes it has done its work in an environmentally-responsible manner, and in compliance with DNR regulations.
Molly Dischner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.